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COLUMNISTS

Will US Intervene in Libya?

Andrei AKULOV | 17.05.2013 | 00:00
 

 According to Associated Press reports, Marines and other U.S. forces in Europe are on a heightened state of alert in response to a deteriorating security situation in the Libyan capital of Tripoli, U.S. officials said on May 10. (1)   The combat readiness condition encompasses a U.S. special operations team based in Stuttgart, Germany and a Marine group of air and ground forces based in Moron, Spain, according to the officials, who, as the agency reports, were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity…   These forces operate under US Africa Command (AFRICOM). The US embassy in Tripoli is guarded by a contingent of 70 Marines.  As to AP, the military official said there is no plan to use any of the forces under current circumstances, but a portion of the approximately 500 Marines in Spain have been notified they might be repositioned for a quicker potential response to trouble in Tripoli. One of the missions for which Marines train is the emergency evacuation of US embassy compounds. No extra US naval or air forces are being moved into the region in response to the unrest in Libya, the official said as quoted by the agency.

The Libyan cities of Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobrouk were plunged in mass protests on May 10. The crowds hit the streets denouncing the use of force by the country's unruly militias. The Muslim Brotherhood is accused of attempts to grab power by pushing through a contentious law that would prevent officials who had served under former country’s leader Muammar Gadhafi from working in government. For nearly two weeks Libya has been gripped by fear of new armed conflict after militias stormed and surrounded government buildings in Tripoli, blocking access to ministries in an attempt to push parliament to pass the contentious law.

 On April 10 militiamen descended on an anti-Islamist rally in the nation's capital in great numbers beating protesters. Militants from Misrtata, Suq Al-Juma and Tajoura surrounded the ministry of Foreign Affairs on preventing staff from entering the offices. They also blocked roads around the buildings with vehicles mounted with anti-aircraft guns. Libyan lawmakers approved the bill during the weekend, but tensions still remain high, guns still on the streets. 

 The UK temporarily withdrew some staff from its embassy in light of growing political instability. On May 9 the US State Department said it was advising U.S. citizens against all but essential travel to Tripoli and all travel to Benghazi and other locations in Libya due to "ongoing instability and violence". The Interior Ministry said it has 400 "highly trained" policemen to beef up security in Benghazi, and that around 2,000 police cadets are graduating in the coming days to help secure the city.

According to Tripoli Post (2), Libyans have played down reports of possible foreign intervention. Speaking to Libya Al-Hurra TV on Saturday, Mr. Mohamed Abdul Aziz, the Libyan Foreign Minister, denied the reports of American intervention in Libya and that he was aware that the both the US and Britain withdrew some unessential members of staff in their embassies. A member of the General National Congress (GNC), the elected highest legislating authority in Libya, told The Tripoli Post he rules out any military intervention in the country at this point.

When asked if this means that the unstable situation in the country is to continue indefinitely, Dr. Mohamed Betru, a member of the National Security Committee of the General National Congress, said that the government is very soon to be taking daring decision to quell the unrest in the capital including the presence of armed civilians. He pointed out that “What is going on in Tripoli has nothing to do with what is been mentioned in the United Nations’ Charter as a basis for foreign intervention in sovereign countries and Libya is a sovereign country.”  Perhaps it is so for the time being, but it servers the purpose to view the background of the happenings.

NATO intervention in 2011 led Libya into political mess

 Gunmen have ended a siege of Libya's foreign and justice ministries but the two-week standoff has left many unresolved questions about the government's ability to impose its authority in the capital, let alone the restive east of the country. More than 18 months after the fall of dictator Muammar Gaddafi, Libya's new rulers have yet to impose a firm grip on a country awash with weapons. Rebel groups that helped to overthrow him are still refusing to disband, and remain more visible on the streets than the state security forces. There is a huge security vacuum filled by a multitude of militias – including radical Islamists who may have been responsible for the killing of the U.S. ambassador and two of his staff in Benghazi last September. “Libya has gone from being a tyrannical state to being barely a state at all,” according to Robert Kaplan, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) in an article published on April 9 called A Descent into Worse Chaos Cannot be Ruled Out. (3) The vacuum also permitted the wholesale looting of Gaddafi’s massive arsenals going on the loose in places like Mali and other Sahelian countries, Iraq, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Substantial amounts of Libyan weapons have been traced to Syria, fuelling that civil war, and to Egypt’s Bedouin tribes located in the Sinai Peninsula.

Gaddafi toppled in 2011, the country is still is still in a political flux. The central government exercises little control over armed formations of different kind, as the latest events show.

The government's inability to guarantee security throughout the country has prompted some local and tribal leaders to take matters into their own hands.

In the oil-rich east, hundreds of leaders agreed on April 11to join forces to defend their territory against armed attacks. "We are not satisfied with the performance of the Ministry of Interior," said Osama Al Sharif, Benghazi's local council spokesman. "And especially with the leadership of Benghazi's police." A year ago the Congress for the People of Cyrenaica, which was held in eastern Libya’s largest city, Benghazi, attracted international attention after the group demanded greater autonomy from the central government. Back then the Tripoli-headquartered National Transitional Council (NTC) immediately rejected the demands. Believing that more self-government may lead to the division of the Libyan state, the leader of the NTC, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to defend the unity of Libya by force,if necessary. But political representatives in Cyrenaica still have no intention of backing down from their recent calls for more independence from Tripoli. Along with the declaration of semi-autonomy, politicians in Cyrenaica have also called for a reversion to the pre-1960 federal system. Nevertheless, in the eyes of the incumbent General National Congress, the transformation to a federal Libya precedes the potential division of the country   and a call for outright secession by Cyrenaica. Although Cyrenaica has only demanded some autonomy from certain governmental functions, any further calls for self-government could lead to the dissolution of Libya via secession. Or it could increase violence through civil unrest. Any moment a spark may start a fire converting Libya into Africa’s next Somalia.

 One of the most salient consequences of more self-government privileges is economic development. About three-quartersof Libya’s vast oil reserves lie underneath Cyrenaica. Indeed, if this easternmost region were to secede, it would become one of the richest states in North Africa and the Middle East. Although lawmakers in the eastern part of the country do not say they want to wholly control the oil fields in Cyrenaica, the possibility of reaping the benefits from their own land remains a powerful factor for political strategies in both the east and the west.

The current events give impetus to doubts if the interim government led by  Prime Minister, Ali Zidan, who took office last October, will cope with the task of preparing the ground for a new constitution and fresh parliamentary elections in 2013.

Prospects for intervention

Perhaps a military intervention is not the US or NATO want at the moment. But the situation is a result of their ardent support for the rag-tag association of rebels united by a desire to topple the Gaddafi government and quite different in world outlook, political convictions and goals. It was clear from the start the country was in for a long period of chaos and instability. Keeping in mind the attacks against US and French embassies, the present situation in Libya makes come to mind the Boxer uprising in China, when Legation Quarter in Beijing was blocked by rebel forces. It led to military intervention those days. Today the US has taken steps to prepare for this kind of contingencies.

On 1 October 2008, AFRICOM was separated from USEUCOM and began operating on its own as a full-fledged Unified Combatant Command headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany. It is responsible for U.S. military operations and military relations with 53 African nations, including Libya. The Sixth fleet is responsible for providing naval forces in case of contingency. The Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa is ready for emergency actions. The Command acquired the special operations team in the fall. The decision to establish the combat ready formation was taken in the wake of the deadly attack on the US diplomatic facilities in the Libyan city of Benghazi. The AFRICOM rapid reaction force, or in-Extremis Force is comprised of Green Berets from the Army’s 10th Special Forces Group that maintains a forward presence in Europe along with the 10th Special Forces Group, the 4th Infantry Division, headquartered in Fort Carson, Colorado. The Command conducts intensive training activities. In March it conducted Operation Flintlock, an annual exercise involving over 1,100 troops from twenty African, European and North American countries honing their skills in Mauritania (the village of Weizen). The same month it led the Saharan Express 2013. The mission was to enhance maritime interaction between the US, European and African states. The training event has been organized annually since 2011. It is one of four African regional maritime exercises taking place within the framework of the «African Partnership Station (APS) », a global maritime initiative developed by the US to boost cooperation with of the armed forces of African states. 

                                                                 ***                                 

 Back in 2011 NATO went beyond the UN resolution 1973 in Libya against Russia’s and China’ warnings not to do so. The situation is caused by NATO disrespect for international law. Going far beyond the UN resolution in Libya, NATO air power was used not to protect civilians, as the document stated it should have done, but to help the opposition forces to topple the Muammar Gaddafi regime. The NATO’s intervention spurred a domino-like effect across Africa’s Sahel region.                                                    

The gist of US foreign policy in the Middle East is the support, including the use of military force, for the  opposition fighting secular regimes, no matter it is to large extent subject to influence of radicals, like in Syria, for instance.  The result is plunging the region in chaos, that willy-nilly leads to the situations requiring military response. The US can win wars, but until now it has totally failed to win peace.

 

References:

1.      http://www.usnews.com/news/politics/articles/2013/05/10/us-forces-in-europe-on-alert-due-to-libya-unrest

2.      http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=10191

3.      http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/04/04/syrian_opposition_seized_military_base_near_daraa

 
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